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Subject: Naval Guns vs. Shore Battery: Rule of Thumb rss

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Andrew Kluck
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This is something I've wondered for awhile now, perhaps there is an answer so I thought I'd pose it here.

If the guns are of equal size and quality, what is the ratio a ship must have to engage a shore battery in a fair fight?

I realize tide, shoals, reefs, wind, current, elevation and a host of other factors play a big role, but I'm essentially wondering if there exists a timeless rule of thumb number like the 3:1 ratio for a successful assault.
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michael connor
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Does to 'engage' mean to suppress, damage or eliminate? And how fortified is the battery, meaning open/covered, earthworks/concrete/masonry,etc??
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Peter Collins
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In the Patrick O'Brien novels they always land troops to take out the shore batteries. The ships only created a distraction.

Of course I have no idea if this represents historically sound tactics.
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My early experience playing Broadside taught me that shore batteries are like Schrödinger's cat. (That can't be wrong, can it?)
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Jason Sadler
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I think Horatio Nelson said the rule of thumb is that no sailor but a fool fights a fortress. Of course, I also think he fought a fortress at the battle of Copenhagen.
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Lance McMillan
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BeatPosse wrote:
I also think he fought a fortress at the battle of Copenhagen.


True, but the action itself was chiefly between the two fleets, with the Danish forts acting more in a supporting role. The point being that the Danes were well aware that if their fleet was lost then the British would be able to bombard the city itself with a relative degree of impunity as the forts did not completely cover all the approaches.

To the OP: can you clarify what period you're referring to with your question. Are you specifically asking about the Age of Sail, or is this a more general question extending to WWI and/or WWII?
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Charles Vasey
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BeatPosse wrote:
I think Horatio Nelson said the rule of thumb is that no sailor but a fool fights a fortress. Of course, I also think he fought a fortress at the battle of Copenhagen.


Jackie Fisher I think.
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Brian Train
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https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/11426/no-sailor...

Brian
 
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Damo
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What era are you referring to? 1800's or modern?
 
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Jason Sadler
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I think I found what Mr. V is referring to:


“Horatio Nelson Never Wrote ‘A Ship’s a Fool to Fight a Fort’; It Was Jackie Fisher Who Invented the Attribution,” by Larrie D. Ferreiro, The Journal of Military History, 80:3 (July 2016): 855-56

Charles Vasey wrote:
BeatPosse wrote:
I think Horatio Nelson said the rule of thumb is that no sailor but a fool fights a fortress. Of course, I also think he fought a fortress at the battle of Copenhagen.


Jackie Fisher I think.
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Robert Wesley
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Sphere wrote:
My early experience playing Broadside taught me that shore batteries are like Schrödinger's cat. (That can't be wrong, can it?)
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Andrew Kluck
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Lancer4321 wrote:


To the OP: can you clarify what period you're referring to with your question. Are you specifically asking about the Age of Sail, or is this a more general question extending to WWI and/or WWII?
Any, all. I wanted to leave it open. A rule of thumb, should it exist, would be roughly applicable to every era with gunpowder. Perhaps we have to begin with just general opinions about specific conflicts, I'm interested in starting there.
 
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M St
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It's pretty clear (even from the above discussion) that no such (quantified) rule of thumb exists, even for a specific conflict, much less of the generalised nature you ask for. There are far too many variables, the most important one being not the ships' number and caliber of guns, but targeting, rate of fire, ammunition and most importantly speed, since often the point was one of "running the guns", not silencing them.

If you want a rule of thumb that applies to shore guns, then pre-WWII it is the one repeatedly stated above. And from WW2 onwards it's "use airpower if possible".

If you're willing to limit yourself to specific conflicts, take some of the rare cases where a fleet went directly head-to-head with land gun emplacements. Likely you'll find that the ratio chosen was far beyond 3:1. Some good examples would be the 18 battleships and battle cruisers brought together to try and force the Dardanelles, or the various bombardment groups in Normandy, such as the duel around Cherbourg. In both these cases, the occasional land gun was unseated but shooting was still going on after hours with damaged ships pulling out, batteries that were supposedly silenced firing again, apparently after rubble had been cleared off, and if batteries were completely taken out that was usually by land assault.

Take a game that has some detailed handling of the bombardments and see how much you can reduce the naval forces and still make the results stick.
 
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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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In the Civil War, I can think of a few rules where ironclads were used to attack forts. The first two being Fort Henry and Donelson (the latter where Grant earned the nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant. Fort Henry was taken before the army arrived by only 7 ships, however this was mostly due to heavy rains part of the river was flooded and the boats could bombard from very close range. An anecdote is that Flag General Foote in charge of the armada reminded his men that each cannon shot cost the US government $4 (or something to that effect, can't quite remember the number), and told his men to therefore "aim carefully!"

Fort Donelson went less well for the armada and Foote was wounded in the foot which is all I remember about the naval aspect of that fight.

You could also look into the Vicksburg campaign. I know Grant eventually had the fleet run the batteries at Vicksburg, but several islands were taken that had been defended by shore batteries, and ships were used to silence the guns. Most of these involved ironclads, but I know some timberclads were used on the Mississippi.

A naval assault of Fort Sumter was launched in 1863, and I know ironclads were used (with ill effect) to try and silence the batteries, and the whole operation was a disaster.

I know this doesn't completely answer your questions, but these are avenues you might want to look into for situations where ships engaged in shore batteries, and I'm sure there are other situations where this true in the Civil War thanks to the faith placed in the strength of ironclads.
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Pete Belli
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Take a look at two early American Civil War battles: Hatteras Inlet and Port Royal Sound.

In both engagements wooden Union ships bombarded coastal fortifications while moving in circular or elliptical formations. This allowed the navy to maintain continuous fire while presenting a difficult target for Confederate artillerymen.
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Andy Daglish
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BeatPosse wrote:
I think I found what Mr. V is referring to:


“Horatio Nelson Never Wrote ‘A Ship’s a Fool to Fight a Fort’; It Was Jackie Fisher Who Invented the Attribution,” by Larrie D. Ferreiro, The Journal of Military History, 80:3 (July 2016): 855-56

Jackie Fisher's only experience of naval combat was the bombardment of Alexandria, which comprehensively crushed the city's numerous coastal forts in ten hours. Presumably their many guns were no longer effective by 1882: Historians argue about whether Admiral Seymour exaggerated the threat from the Egyptian batteries at Alexandria in order to force the hand of a reluctant Gladstone administration.

Clearly naval artillery can be assembled in almost any quantity and concentrated on individual targets, which may weaken them to the point they are vulnerable to amphibious attack. The naval forces hold almost all the aces, including the initiative. They can decide target, range, direction of fire, temporary retreat etc. Size of artillery is less important at sea, as heavier guns merely displace more water, and therefore can be transported far more easily. Taken to the ultimate, poliorcetic bomb ketches feature one enormous mortar, which would outrange anything found by land. During the ACW the USN operated five of these, the last & least ships in its naval list. In this war 90% of Confederate citizens lived within naval artillery range, which, along with the blockade, demonstrates the USN's predominance in deciding the outcome of the war.

The bombardment of Algiers in 1816 saw a fairer fight, in which HMS Impregnable was hit 268 times according to Wikipedia. As guns and the ships that carried them became bigger, they also became much more expensive, but by the same token so did effective coastal artillery. The ships could be used anywhere, rapidly, whereas coastal guns had to be installed at all vulnerable locations in large numbers, thus I suspect the warships were far more cost-effective, and this disparity increased as technology developed. Its not uncommon to find coastal guns opening fire for the first time when they are many decades old, eg. The Battle of Drøbak Sound.
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G.W.
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Speaking to the age of sail...

In general, not a good idea for a ships to attack forts.
Forts can't be sunk. Ships can.

Forts also can more easily and safely fire heated shot, which poses a severe risk to wooden ships.

Ships are naval weapons best suited to fight other ships.

So in most cases I think the best way to attack forts was by land; an infantry assault from a direction the fort wasn't designed to defend, with ships providing gunnery support -- suppressive and harassing fire but not with the expectation of destroying or disabling the fort by firepower alone.
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Paul Spak
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Sphere wrote:
My early experience playing Broadside taught me that shore batteries are like Schrödinger's cat. (That can't be wrong, can it?)


That'd have to be a mighty small (or very flat) cat to fit in a Broadside box.
 
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CJ
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For a modern day comparison a single 4.5" gun on a British destroyer is regarded as parity with a battery of 105mm light gun. In other words, punchy as f**k.
 
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mark feldman
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During Operation Hannibal, the evacuation of German military personnel and civilians from the eastern territories in front of the advancing Soviet Army, the remnants of the German surface fleet bombarded Red army units, buying time for the evacuation and inflicting thousands of casualties on the pursuing Russians.
 
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M St
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elgin_j wrote:
For a modern day comparison a single 4.5" gun on a British destroyer is regarded as parity with a battery of 105mm light gun. In other words, punchy as f**k.

Juvenile verbal grandstanding aside, that's not the issue that makes the difference. Ships have always had the edge in concentrated firepower. What balances it is that if the ship moves off, it takes all that firepower with it, whereas the land guns can operate individually.

The point is that if one of those 105mm light guns scores a hit that makes the destroyer withdraw (and that doesn't mean it has to be severely damaged, it's sufficient that they say 'let's go away for a bit and then come back'), its gone from the fight. This was even more pronounced in the past where ships were carrying multiple guns - hurt the ship, somewhere, all its guns are gone.

Conversely, to silence that battery of 105mm guns, you have to silence all its guns - and they will be dispersed into individual positions.
 
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Paul Amala
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oldbrownsfan wrote:
Sphere wrote:
My early experience playing Broadside taught me that shore batteries are like Schrödinger's cat. (That can't be wrong, can it?)


That'd have to be a mighty small (or very flat) cat to fit in a Broadside box.


Or perhaps the cat just is not there....
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Paul Amala
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No Sailor But a Fool: Command at Sea Volume III covers this in detail for WWII naval assault actions.
 
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Rory McAllister
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I know in playing the solitaire scenarios in The Ironclads which were Ships versus Shore batteries, The shore batteries always won. Not sure if that is helpful though.
 
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kevin halloran
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I don't think there is any rule of thumb and I suspect that the variables and complexities are such that any attempt to formulate such a rule, even in broad terms, would be meaningless. This would be so, I think, even if you restricted consideration to a particular war or time period. Some of the classic examples of contests between ships and shore batteries took place during the American Civil War. Eye witness accounts from both sides - such as are available in the 4 volume Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (widely available) - give details of topography, weather, tactics, ship type and numbers, fort construction and siting, the types of gun, numbers of rounds fired, damage and casualties.
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